You may have heard the term trauma-informed care, or TIC, recently thanks to a 60 Minutes report. We incorporate this practice into every facet of HALO, from the Learning Center to staff meetings to partnering agencies. HALO staff members have been TIC facilitators since 2014 and train all staff, interns, and volunteers during the orientation process. Through TIC training, we learn what trauma is and how that affects a child’s development. We are also trained to spot the signs and symptoms of a trauma reaction.
Why is trauma-informed care so revolutionary? Traditionally, if a child had behavioral issues people would assume they were a bad kid who needed punishment to correct their behavior. Thanks to advancements in neurological research, we now understand those adverse reactions are ways in which those kids are trying to cope with being triggered. We no longer ask “what’s wrong with you?” but “what’s going on in your life? Because I want to make you feel safe“.
Now here’s where we get a bit technical, so stick with us! Adverse behavior is a maladaptive coping skill. Abuse, violence, chaos, and neglect all contribute to a traumatic childhood. Kids with trauma have had limited or no control over their own lives and are ultimately just trying to survive. From a very early age, chaotic and unpredictable environments create an over-activated stress response system that becomes hard-wired into the brain. Those neural networks become over-developed and result in reactive, impulsive, and fear-based responses.*
Our brains like to take a “use it or lose it” approach. The neural networks that we don’t use become under-developed or pruned entirely. Through TIC, we aim to rewire the brain so that a response is not one out of fear. How do we do this? Through actively resisting retraumatization by creating a safe environment where kids can use their voice and are able to make their own choices.
Trauma takes away their choices. There have been many times when a kid comes into the Learning Center, refusing to be a part of the activity. Then, there’s a visible relief when we let them know that that’s alright, that they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. This reaction isn’t about the activity but about grasping for some form of power.
Trauma builds walls and kids have a hard time accepting that someone is safe and wants the best for them. Time and consistency are two important factors in trauma-informed care and we make sure that HALO is at least one place in their life where they won’t experience trauma. We work to build that trust and keep that relationship no matter the age.
If you would like more information about trauma-informed care, check out these resources:
*To learn more about the neurobiology behind TIC, check out this presentation that we referenced in writing this post.